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North Korea Fires Missile Ahead of Trump-China Meeting; Trump Faces Major Tests with North Korea and Syria; Rep. Castro Predicts Trump Aides Will 'End Up in Jail'. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 5, 2017 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, April 5, 6 a.m. here in New York. And the breaking news we begin with is that President Trump is facing crises in Syria and now North Korea.

[05:58:59] North Korea firing another ballistic missile. This one a day before Trump is set to meet with China's president. The White House reaction confusing at best. A dire warning from the White House: "The clock has run out. All options on the table." But then an odd 23-word statement from the secretary of state, saying nothing.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The Trump White House also facing tough questions about the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The evidence points to his regime carrying out the worst chemical attack in years, killing dozens of people, including children.

It's a very busy day, day 76 of the Trump presidency. We have it all covered for you. Let's begin with senior international correspondent Ivan Watson, live in Seoul with all of the breaking details on the missile launch -- Ivan.


This is a missile launch from North Korea, interpreted very much as a provocation, not only against U.S. President Trump but also against the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, since both leaders are due to sit down for the first time for a sit-down meeting at Trump's golf resort in Florida on Thursday.

Now, the U.S. military says that this was a medium-range land-based missile that was launched from the North Korean submarine port of Sinpo, that it flew around nine minutes, going a distance of about 117 miles, an altitude of about 117 miles up into the air, a distance of only about 37 miles into the East Sea or the Sea of Japan.

But experts say it does Mark a step forward for North Korea's missile weapons technology, because it appears to have used solid fuel. It's not the first time they fired this kind of missile. They fired this one in February when Trump was sitting down with the Japanese prime minister. This style of missile is faster to set up and launch and, thus, makes it harder to try to intercept.

You've had statements from key U.S. allies in the region. South Korea and Japan condemning this. North Korea has fired more than two times more missiles in the last five years than the whole 17 years of Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-Il, when he was dictator of that country -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Ivan, thank you very much. A pretty direct message coming from that country. The question is what will be the response? President Trump weighing his next move after North Korea's ballistic missile launch and that horrific chemical attack in Syria that we first told you about yesterday.

CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House with these international crises facing the president -- Joe.


The focus certainly this morning on this new administration's foreign policy messaging. A pair of curious responses from the Trump administration to troubling developments on the world stage.

A warning. Our report this morning contains some very disturbing images.


JOHNS (voice-over): North Korea raising the stakes ahead of Donald Trump's summit with the Chinese president. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responding to the provocation with a foreboding 23-word statement: "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."

This after President Trump threatened to go it alone if China doesn't help confront the North Korean threat. On the campaign trail, Trump insisted North Korea was China's problem.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I would do very simply is say China, "This is your baby. This is your problem. You solve the problem."

JOHNS: Meantime, a senior White House official issuing a dire warning that the clock has now run out. All options are on the table. This as the world reacts in horror to one of the worst chemical attacks in Syria in years. Experts say it's likely another saran gas attack that killed dozens of civilians, including children, and injured hundreds.

As world leaders quickly condemn the attack, it took the White House nine hours to issue a statement. The president and his top diplomat declining to comment on Syria during multiple public appearances on Tuesday. The White House statement calling the attack "reprehensible" and laying responsibility squarely at the feet of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but also blaming President Obama, deeming the attack a consequence of his weakness and irresolution. SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: President Obama said in

2012 that he would establish a, quote unquote, "red line" against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.

JOHNS: This criticism contradicting President Trump's tweets after the last chemical attack in 2013, in which he urged then-President Obama not to retaliate with military action.

Just last week, two of Trump's top administration officials signaling a sharp change in U.S. policy toward Syria.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The longer-term, longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.

JOHNS: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley telling reporters "Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out." These remarks drawing a sharp rebuke from fellow Republicans.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The bottom line is it is a huge mistake.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This is another disgraceful chapter in American history, and it was predictable.


JOHNS: Now today, President Trump's high-level week of interaction with foreign leaders here at the White House continues with a visit by the king of Jordan -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Joe, thank you very much for that. As President Trump prepares for those high-stakes diplomatic meetings, a new audio message from the spokesman for ISIS, calling President Trump an Arabic term that means, quote, "foolish idiot who does not know anything about Islam." This appears to be the first time the terror group has referred to America's new president.

So we have a lot to discuss. Let's bring in our panel. We are honored to have U.S. undersecretary for foreign affairs and former State Department official, Ambassador Nicholas Burns. We have CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official, Philip Mudd; and CNN political analyst and reporter for "The Washington Post," Abby Philip.

Ambassador, let me start with you. When Secretary of State Tillerson says North Korea -- let's start with North Korea -- "North Korea has launched yet another intermediate-range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."

What does that statement say to you?

AMBASSADOR NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, obviously, Secretary Tillerson is trying to -- trying to take away the public relations advantage from North Korea. But the problem with what he said is that a lot of people are listening. The people of South Korea want to know that the United States is going to defend them and have their back. The people of Japan, both their governments, are potential victims of these missiles and of the irrational behavior, erratic behavior of the North Koreans.

So I think you do have to come out and condemn this. Back up your allies. What he could have done is what President Trump should now do. Put the onus on China. China is the country that supplies the coal and the food, has some degree of influence in Pyongyang. That's where the responsibility should lie.

CUOMO: But they have -- Ambassador, they have $7 billion of trade, China. They have a shared physical and cultural boundary when it comes to North Korea. And they have done nothing to date. So what is the U.S. leverage? We've heard from the White House, trade. What does that mean?

BURNS: I think the leverage here is that President Obama ordered the deployment of a THAAD missile defense system, and President Obama should say, "We're going to go ahead with that deployment." The Chinese are furious about it.

But President Trump can say this is the consequence when China doesn't restrain its ally, Kim Jong-un. That's one thing that we can do. And of course, the other is to say to the Chinese leadership -- this is the first meeting. It's a very important meeting at Mar-a-Lago tomorrow -- that the U.S.-China relationship is now going to be a function. It's going to be graded on what China can do on North Korea. To put that front and center on the table, I think President Trump would be within his rights to do that.

CAMEROTA: So Abby, when -- when Rex Tillerson says, "We will have no further comment," but then there are also messages coming out that all options are on the table for how to deal with North Korea, obviously, it keeps North Korea guessing. It also keeps the American people guessing as to what the policy is.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. That's a really important point, Alisyn. I mean, talking to foreign policy experts, just the lead-up to this administration, one of the things that comes up often is the degree to which this administration doesn't send clear signals. It's not entirely clear who's in charge. Whether that is Rex Tillerson on the policy on this issue or the White House or perhaps Jared Kushner.

So there is a little bit of uncertainty here about who's really setting the agenda and what is actually, in fact, on the table.

We do know that the president is -- is pretty much 100 percent focused on this issue of North Korea with China. We know that leading up to this -- to the inauguration and the campaign, he talked a lot about trade. But one of the things that we're learning is that the president is actually much more concerned about North Korea and dealing with China on that issue than he is on economic stuff.

So this is going to be a really big deal going into this meeting with Xi at Mar-a-Lago over the next couple of days. And it will be up an opportunity for the president to express some kind of clarity, one on one, with world leaders about what he intends to do and what is actually on the table.

CUOMO: An important test, Phil Mudd, because as the president will find with most major international issues, there is no easy answer. If there were one, it would have been found already.

When you look at North Korea, when you look at Syria, they're very complex. They're involved. They are multipartite. And if you were going to have a solution, it would require lots of negotiation. These are all things that we haven't seen be strengths in this early presidency.

And Syria, let's pivot to that one. You have Trump who, when he was on his own as a candidate, judging government, he said, "Don't go into Syria. That would be crazy. There's no upside." And now the White House taking the opposite view and saying this is all about Obama being weak; he should have done more. Is that a problem for creating policy going forward?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think it is a problem, because you have a president who's issued a statement in the North Korea case suggesting he's going to do something. I think there are parallels in both situations.

That is, as he saw with health care, with immigration reform, there are limits to American presidential power. Let's take Syria for a moment. You have two options here. And observers who are critical of the White House's position on Syria, I think they're making this too simple.

One is the continuation of the civil war, the refusal to deal with Russia and Bashar al-Assad; and maybe the arming of Syrian opposition, who had proven unable to oust Assad.

The second option, obviously, is to deal with the Russians and say we want the civil war to end. We've got 400,000 plus dead people there. We've got a situation where ISIS thrives. So therefore, we're going to have to deal with Assad to tighten the screws on ISIS and the civil war.

Which option are you going to pick, Chris? You're going to pick a civil war that we can't win, or are you going to pick supporting a dictator who used chemical weapons? I think the White House is realizing -- and I think this is one reason Rex Tillerson didn't say much. There are limits to what they can do, despite this being the president of the United States.

[06:10:21] CAMEROTA: Ambassador, diplomatically speaking, it does feel as though the eyes of the world are on Syria. All sorts of world leaders have come out to condemn this. Why is it so hard to, in that case, since there is a consensus, to solve the problem in Syria?

BURNS: Well, this is a major violation of international law, the chemical weapons convention. The world is united against their use. And when President -- if saran gas has been used -- and all indications it was -- there needs to be a resounding denunciation of that from the United States.

President Trump and Rex Tillerson should has said, "We're going to take this to the United Nations today."

I thought it was cowardly for President Trump to blame President Obama. I can't imagine President Reagan or President Eisenhower saying such a thing against their Democratic predecessor. And the logical extension of what President Trump said in his written statement is that the United States is going to take action. And I think, as Phil has said very correctly, the United States has no intention of taking this -- action against the Syrian government.

So this has been a calamity of errors by the administration this week. If you don't -- if you think you're not going take action to remove President Assad, you don't say that publicly. Because that's a major gift to President Assad.

CUOMO: That's what he does, is our president talks tough, and that worked really well in the campaign trail, and it works very well in the confines of Washington, D.C.

But Abby, is it true or are you hearing from your sources confirmation of this principle that there is a little bit of a high-eyebrow syndrome going on in the White House right now that, wow, Trump talked tough about going it alone in North Korea in that financial times. And all of a sudden, North Korea launches a missile.

And you know, they talked about how Obama is so weak and in Syria, they should take care of their own problems. And all of a sudden, you have him using a chemical attack. Wow, our words are coming back on us.

PHILLIP: Well, there's -- you know, the White House is trying to manage a lot of situations where -- for which they have very few real solutions.

I mean, the statement on Assad was largely an attempt to sort of put the blame on the situation for his predecessor, but not actually present any -- any solution. And it buys them a little bit of time.

But it's very clear that this White House is trying to manage things that they don't have a full handle on. They don't have the relationships that they need to deal with it. They wanted to -- to broker a slightly different relationship with Russia, which has now been on hold. That's kind of tied their hands in terms of how they thought they wanted to deal with the issue of Syria and that region at this stage in the White House.

So they're trying to buy some time to figure things out. And it's really not clear that -- that they are responding to the fact that -- that, you know, a couple of days ago after saying that Assad should probably stay, Assad is moving forward doing the kinds of provocative things that -- that he would do if he feels like there are no consequences to his actions on the global stage.

CAMEROTA: Ambassador Burns, can you understand why it would take the White House nine hours to come out and say anything about Syria after we had all already seen the videos, splashed all over the news?

BURNS: No, and again, this is -- this is a major international transgression. So you've got to come out quickly. Secretary Tillerson had an opportunity to do that and didn't say it. The secretary and the president needs to take some ownership here. It can't just be about what the Obama administration didn't do. They should have spoken out earlier.

We're the strongest country in the world. We're the moral voice in the world on issues like this. And it shouldn't take much to condemn Bashar al-Assad.

CUOMO: Yes, but the problem is, you know, you look the pictures. This is a man or an administration or a regime that is comfortable attacking his own, including children. And you have the White House, who just put out a statement through their secretary of state, and their ambassador to the U.N. Hey, they can figure out their own problems there. And this attack followed it right up, had the White House on its heels. That, "Ooh, look at the back fire. Look at the problem we're dealing with now. What can we do?" It's a tough situation.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for all of your expertise and reporting.

Coming up, in just minutes, we want to let you know that I will speak Bana Alabed. She is the 7-year-old child who has become the face of the war in Syria. It's her tweets that bring global attention to what's going on there. She's going to tell us who she thinks is to blame and what her message is today to the world.

CUOMO: All right. A top Democrat on the House Intel Committee is predicting that members of President Trump's staff will be jailed because of the fallout from the Russia investigation. On what basis? What is known that could lead to any type of indictment, let alone a criminal prosecution? Next.


[06:19:12] CUOMO: All right. So the good news is that House Intelligence Committee members say they're doing their job again, that the investigation is ongoing into Russian interference, and they have a witness list that they're going to look at. That's, I guess, good news if you want answers.

But then you have a top Democrat on that committee making a very bold prediction. Listen.


REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If somebody asked me my impression, I would -- my impression is that people will probably be charged, and I think people will probably go to jail.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: Based on what is the question that that statement encourages. Let's bring back our panel: Phil Mudd, Abby Philip, and joining us, CNN senior political analyst Mark Preston.

We are used to political hyperbole. This is what they do these days. Everybody's going to jail. We've heard it all through the campaign. But where is Castro coming from? I thought the whole point of the investigation so far was they didn't know anything.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He is playing into the same hand that the Republicans were dealing earlier. You know, where he's basically politicizing a committee that Republicans have been criticized for politicizing a committee right now. Irresponsible what he did. He has no moral ground for what he did. And he...

[06:20:21] CUOMO: Unless he can back it up. What I'm saying is, they keep saying they haven't been shown anything...

PRESTON: Even if -- even if he can he back it up, this is an ongoing investigation. He's supposed to be an investigator looking into the administration in its acts and its tactics and what have you. But to come out and say probably, so he hedges it by saying probably. Very irresponsible, and he shouldn't have done it.

CAMEROTA: Abby, what's been the reaction inside the Beltway to what Congressman Castro said?

PHILLIP: Well, in some ways, it's been a little bit of indifference. Because this investigation has been somewhat off the rails for quite some time, with both sides really using such hyperbole that it almost renders some of these statements meaningless.

I mean, there is a very high bar for criminal behavior here for someone to go to jail. And we've, so far, seen no evidence that would warrant that. And we don't know what the committee has seen. It's important to note that he has access to information that we don't.

But there's nothing that we know of now that has warranted criminal investigation. Even if it did, he would not be in a position to say something about it. But it just goes to show that the partisanship on this committee has gone into high gear. And they need to rein it in, in order to move forward in a way that will have credibility once they come to a conclusion.

CUOMO: Who has a better sour face, Alisyn? Phil? Or -- or Preston?

CAMEROTA: It's got to go to Phil.

CUOMO: They have competing sour faces.

Mudd, what is your take? Why are you so sour when it comes to Castro? And I want your take on whether or not what Susan Rice said to PBS was misleading; it does need to be cleared up. What's your take on those two things?

MUDD: Well, sour face, I have to look at you at 6:10 in the morning. But other than that...

CUOMO: Do you believe he said that to you, Alisyn? How dare you, Mudd?

MUDD: Listen, let's take the congressional piece first. I mean, this is a freak show. We have a Republican critiqued last week for going around the committee and suggesting that he was more loyal to the White House, which is being investigated, than he was to his own committee.

And Democrats rightfully said he's eliminated the prospect that this committee is going to operate fairly.

And then the next week, this guy comes out, Castro, before they actually run the committee, and says, "I've made my own decisions, indicated my own bias before we have the hearing"? I mean, what kind of -- these guys should step away, go on vacation and let the Senate handle this.

On Susan Rice, I think there's a -- three's a conflation of issues that is people, especially on the Republican side, have raised concerns about her past, for example, her involvement in Benghazi. I think that is irrelevant. She -- when she spoke yesterday, I think spoke clearly and in my experience as a professional, accurately, about how you unmask information as a national security professional.

This is another game in this freak show. People are trying to divert the attention to whether she had the right to ask who was interfering with Russian sanctions.

CUOMO: She said she didn't know what Nunes was talking about.

CAMEROTA: Right. That was how she tried to clear it up yesterday. So she was on cable news. Somebody confronted her and said,, "Why did you say I don't know anything about this?" And she says, "Because I didn't know what Nunes was talking about." How would she know? I mean, Nunes was quite unclear when he came out.

CUOMO: But he said they were doing surveillance. They were unmasking. They were catching up Trump people. And she said, "I didn't know what he's talking about." You're saying that she meant in terms of what, what context?

CAMEROTA: I think so. But the also wasn't as clear as you just paraphrased it. He basically said, "I don't know that I" -- "I can't tell you. I know it wasn't illegal, but I don't know what more I saw."

MUDD: If I have to read into what she said and I think there should be further questions for her. I do think she should be in front of a congressional committee, not because she did anything wrong, but because she can add perspective to say what was the impact on our relationship with Russia and on sanctions by this interference by people coming into the Oval Office.

I think what she might have been saying -- and I'm just guessing here -- is look, I get intelligence briefings every day. She has a briefer who typically would show up in the morning 6:30, 7, 7:30 in the morning. Hands her a pile of stuff. It's not uncommon for her to say, "Hey, whether it's sanctions or terrorism, on this piece of intelligence, I need to know who the American official is." She may be saying, "I don't remember the specific stuff they're talking about," as opposed to saying, "I never asked for any information to be unmasked."

CAMEROTA: But you know, there's another issue here, Mark, and that is how is something going to prove that what she did was politically motivated? I mean, this is getting into the mind of somebody. When somebody says, "I want this name unmasked; I want to know more about this," how are you ever going to prove if it was intelligence related or politically motivated?

PRESTON: Yes. Because intent is going to be very difficult to do.

And by the way, what she said yesterday, too, was that she didn't know it and she never did it. We're talking about Washington, D.C. It's going to come out. So if she lied, we're going to learn.

[06:25:02] CUOMO: They want to finger her as a leaker. And that's why it's a good -- it's a tasty suggestion.

CAMEROTA: But she denies that.

CUOMO: Did you do it because of politics? Because that means you're a leaker.

CAMEROTA: Right, but she said...

PRESTON: I also think Phil brought up a very smart point there about Benghazi. They're trying to compare what she did on Benghazi to where we are now. And the Trump administration has done a very good job of conflating all different threads of...

CAMEROTA: Well, because they're trying to say that she's not credible. They're basing what she said publicly on Benghazi, which turned out not to be true, to show that now she's not credible.

PRESTON: And guess what? As Phil said, go up to the -- to the congressional committee, specifically the Senate, and go through the investigation and do it behind closed doors. Do what they have to do. But to really try her in the court of public opinion right now is also irresponsible.

CAMEROTA: OK, Panel, thank you very much for all that. Obviously, we'll continue to cover it throughout the program.

Meanwhile, Vice President Pence is trying to restart health care reform. Is he making any progress? We get a live report from Capitol Hill next.


CAMEROTA: There are two big showdowns gripping Capitol Hill today. Vice President Pence is trying to revive the health care bill. And the Senate is trying to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is in the middle of it all on Capitol Hill. What is the latest, Sunlen?


Well, the White House certainly continues their full-scale blitz up here on Capitol Hill.